Mounting evidence shows milk is not 'the perfect food'
Since time immemorial, milk has been hailed by health workers and school teachers as one of the healthiest and most nutritious of foods, and many people firmly believe that cows' milk is "the perfect food".
Walk into any school and you will find posters about dairy products in every classroom. Young children are taught that milk products are an essential part of a balanced diet. But are such products healthy?
Milk contains calcium. Health practitioners argue that, of all minerals, calcium is the most abundant in the human body.
But studies in the US show that, though health practitioners warn of the dangers of not getting enough calcium, people in some parts of the world are living healthily on only half the amount they say we need.
The studies show that people in countries consuming the greatest amount of calcium from milk products suffer the most from calcium deficiencies.
Ali Mubarak, a Johannesburg private practitioner, said milk is not good for adults.
"Cows' milk isn't that great for adults because it is made for cows, not humans. And if you are not consuming magnesium along with cows' milk, you are not benefitting from the calcium - if you consume something with iron in it, your body can't absorb calcium at all. So, red meat and a glass of milk is not a great idea."
Mubarak said that dairy products were the leading cause of allergies in adults and children alike.
Common milk allergies
l Anaemia: Mubarak said milk causes anemia in many children.
"Milk products are the number-one cause of this problem because they cause blood loss and interfere with iron absorption. Also, kids who drink lots of milk feel full and often have no room for healthier, iron-containing foods," he said.
l Atherosclerosis, or heart and blood vessel disease, also make it onto the list of illnesses that can be caused by milk.
"Milk is the main source of saturated fat in most diets. A further problem is that the antibodies formed against milk also attack the lining of arteries," Mubarak said.
l Blood loss, constipation and diabetes: Mubarak said medical evidence strongly suggests that early consumption of cows' milk leads to an increase in type 1 diabetes.
"I have seen constipation clear up in days when parents remove dairy products from their child's diet and the intestinal blood loss from drinking milk is an accepted medical fact."
What does cows' milkdo to the body?
Mubarak said milk allergies were the immune system's reaction to milk protein and milk products.
"They are symptoms that appear in infants. They affect the digestive system, the skin and the airways.
"A milk allergy can be life-threatening to infants if it is not recognised [and treated].
"The term 'allergy' might mean only a minor ailment, but allergies to milk can lead to diabetes in children. The child's immune system might start attacking the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin."
Mubarak said that lactose [milk sugar] intolerance shows up a couple of years later and is caused by the body being unable to break down lactose.
"This affects the digestion and causes symptoms such as bloating, gas and loose bowels. This is not a serious intolerance: many people can drink milk or eat other dairy products in small amounts," he said.
Mubarak said that any "milk- free" labels are misleading because the product contains some milk protein.
He said that cows' milk might cause osteoporosis, though it is reputed to prevent it. Cows' milk in large quantities can prevent the body from absorbing calcium.
Common symptoms of an adverse reaction to dairy products:
l Green, runny or bloody stools
l Skin rashes
l Chronic nasal stuffiness
l Vomiting and diarrhoea
l Spitting up phlegm
l Gassiness or constipation.